Sunday, November 23, 2014

HERALDRY: Douglas, Moray, de Vere (Updated Mar 24, 2017)

Coats of arms of the Douglas (L) and Moray-
Murray Clans, both descended from Flemish 
settler Freskin. Note three five-pointed 
silver (argent) stars on a blue (azure) field.
My quest for origins of the stars in the American Stars and Stripes has led me to the Douglas and Murray families (clans) of Scotland.

Their shields of white (argent) stars on a blue (azure) background best suggest the canton in the Stars and Stripes.

The blue field could well have come from the blue of Scotland's St. Andrew's saltire.

But what inspired the five-pointed stars? In pursuit of answers to this question I may be traveling to Yorkshire, Berwick-on-Tweed and Edinburgh in the near future. If you have suggestions for this visit, please contact me at

Origins of the Douglas and Moray Families

Both the Douglas and the Moray families descended from Flemish noblemen from Boulogne (once part of Greater Flanders):
  1. Eustace II (c. 1015-c.1087), a companion of William the Conqueror, whose descendants include the Earls of Buchan via Robert de Comines. The two-line border (double-tressure) around the Buchan escutcheon suggests Flemish ancestry.
  2. Freskin, one of many emigrants from Flanders who in the mid-12th century, settled in Scotland, mostly in West Lothian (Edinburgh region), where by a charter of King William to his son William, Freskin was given some land.  Freskin was also given land in Moray as part of the royal division of spoils after William's victory over the Mormaer of Moray. (Moray is pronounced Murray, which is the way it was often later spelled.) Some Freskin descendants settled in the valley of the Clyde (Glasgow region).
This connection to Flemish settlers raises some questions. The star is a mark of cadency signifying the third son. Maybe it means that the original immigrant to Scotland was the third son of the House of Boulogne in Flanders. But why is the star so prominent? Usually, a mark of cadency is a small charge on the shield, like the tip on a restaurant bill. Why does it dominate the field of the Douglas/Moray shield? Why three? Why white on blue (argent on azure), given that the House of Boulogne colors are gold and red (or and gules)?

These questions do not arise with the de Vere (Earl of Oxford) faceted star (or mullet in English heraldry). Its colors may provide a clearer link to a Flemish ancestry. What might have happened with the Douglas coat of arms is that the close association of Douglases with the Scottish leadership meant they changed the colors to the white-and-blue (argent and azure) colors (tinctures) of the St. Andrew's saltire.

The Douglas Family and Coat of Arms

The Douglas coat of arms originated with Sir William ("Long-Leg") de Douglas, 1200-1274, who first adopted in 1259 the shield with the blazon argent, on a chief azure, three stars of the field, i.e., the coat of arms shown at top left above.

His son Sir William ("le Hardi" or "the Bold") Douglas was the first to call himself, sometime before 1288, "Lord of Douglas". He was the first noble supporter of William Wallace, key leader of the Scottish War of Independence. He died c. 1298 in captivity in the Tower of London.

The eldest son of Sir William Douglas the Bold was The Good Sir James of Douglas. He established himself as one of King Robert Bruce's closest lieutenants. He is responsible, as explained below, for the legend of Bruce's heart.

The son of the Good Sir James became William IV of Scotland. He inserted the heart charge below the three stars in the Douglas coat of arms, in honor of his father.

The Good Sir James of Douglas

Sir William Douglas sent his son James to France for safety in the early days of the Wars of Scottish Independence. He was educated in Paris and expected to live the good life of a landowner when he returned to Scotland. However, when he returned he found his father's lands had been confiscated. He faced life as a landless outcast.

Posthumous Coat of Arms
of "the Good Sir James
of Douglas". 
Meanwhile, in February 1306 Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, had just killed his rival for the crown, John Comyn, at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. On his way to be crowned King Robert I of Scotland ("Robert the Bruce") in March 1306, he was met by Douglas, on the summit of a hill in Dumfries and Galloway now known as the Crown of Scotland.

Douglas offered his services and Bruce, very wisely it turned out, accepted them.

Douglas shared in Bruce's early defeats, at Methven and the Battle of Dalrigh. They decided on a new strategy, what they called a "secret war" – what we would today call guerrilla warfare.

As the war resumed in spring 1307, the Scots implemented their strategy of responding to superior numbers of English troops by deploying fast-moving bands operating from unexpected directions at unexpected times:
  • 1307-1308 – As Bruce campaigned in the north against disloyal fellow Scots. Douglas used the cover of Selkirk Forest to ambush English forces coming north.
  • 1308, Spring – After Douglas Castle was taken by the English, Douglas and a small fighting force hid on a farm until Palm Sunday morning, when the English garrison at the castle left to attend the local church. Gathering local support, Douglas entered the church with the war-cry "Douglas! Douglas!" He killed some English soldiers at once, rounded the rest up and marched them to the castle where they were all beheaded. Douglas piled their bodies on supplies from the cellar and set fire to the pyre. The wells were then poisoned with salt and carcasses of dead horses. Locals wryly called this the "Douglas Larder".  Scottish fans thereafter called Douglas "the Good Sir James of Douglas", while the English fearfully called him "the Black Douglas".
  • 1308, August – Douglas met with King Bruce for a joint attack on the rebel MacDougalls of Lorn, kinsmen of the Comyns. Bruce pinned down the enemy in a frontal advance through the pass. Douglas and the Highlanders surprised and slaughtered English troops from the rear.
  • 1310 – Edward II came north with another army but went home having never engaged the Scots. He whined to the Pope: "Robert Bruce and his accomplices ... concealed themselves in secret places after the manner of foxes." Welcome to guerrilla warfare. Suck it up.
  • 1314, Shrove Tuesday – The English presence in Scotland by now reduced to a few strongholds, Douglas captured a big one at Roxburgh on Shrove Tuesday, the last celebration before Lent. His men covered themselves with their cloaks and crawled towards the castle on their hands and knees. (Think Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane in Macbeth.) The defenders believed them to be cows or horses. Douglas's men threw up scaling hooks and rope ladders and quickly overwhelmed the inebriated English soldiers.
  • 1314, June – Edward again invaded Scotland, this time with an army four times the size of the Scottish army, to relieve Stirling Castle. The Scottish army waited south of Stirling, ready to make a quick getaway, if needed, into the wild country to the west. But their position, just north of the Bannockburn, was so good that King Bruce decided for once to suspend guerrilla tactics. His bet paid off. The Battle of Bannockburn, June 23-24, was the turning point for an independent Scotland. The English army retreated south, with Douglas in full pursuit. Edward took refuge in Dunbar Castle. Bannockburn ended the English attacks and united Scotland under Bruce. After it, Douglas was made a knight.
  • 1314, July on – Douglas raided northern England, down to Pontefract and the Humber, with  small horses known as hobbins. The horse and rider together were known as a "hobelar". The hobelars – with the rider dismounting prior to battle – caused widespread panic in northern England similar to the Viking longships of the Ninth Century.
With King Bruce diverted in 1315-16 to Ireland, Douglas and his family rose in importance. Douglas was made Lieutenant of the Realm in autumn 1316. Edward Bruce, the king's brother, was killed in Ireland at the Battle of Faughart in autumn 1318. Douglas was then named Guardian of the Realm and tutor to the future Robert II by the parliament at Scone in December 1318. Douglas continued his victories:
  • 1318, April – Douglas helped capture Berwick from the English, the first time the castle had been in Scottish hands since 1296. 
  • 1319, Summer – Edward II's newly assembled army, the largest since 1314, marched to the gates of Berwick, to try to recapture it. Douglas meanwhile went around behind Edward's army and attacked poorly defended York, where Edward's Queen Isabella had been left. She fled and the Archbishop of York organized a home guard that included many priests and other clerics. Douglas met them at Myton-on-Swale, slaughtering many of the untrained religious defenders. The raid embarrassed the English and produced the desired dissension among Edward's army, which withdrew from Berwick. Berwick remained Scottish for 15 more years.
  • 1323 – Edward II's final invasion got as far as the gates of Edinburgh. Bruce, however, pursued a scorched-earth campaign, denying the English essential supplies and forcing them to retreat. Scottish troops pursued them deep into Yorkshire. Edward and Isabella, in residence at Rievaulx Abbey, were forced into an embarrassing flight.
  • 1327, August – In 1327 Edward II was deposed in a palace coup led by Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, Lord Wigmore. They crowned Edward III, Edward II's teenage son, but kept the reins of the government in their hands. Edward III led another attack on the Scots. The English caught up with the Scots on the southern banks of the River Wear, but the Scots refused to be drawn into battle, moving to a safer position at Stanhope Park. From here  Douglas recrossed the Wear in a surprise attack on the sleeping English. Edward III himself narrowly escaped capture, his own pastor dying in his defense. His humiliated army disbanded. Mortimer and Isabella negotiated a peace, recognizing the Bruce monarchy and Scottish independence.
Death of The Good Sir James of Douglas, 1330 - plaque.
Now undisputed King of Scotland, Bruce was by this time worn out and was not to live much longer.
  • 1329 – Bruce, dying, asked Sir James Douglas to carry his heart in battle against "God's foes" in lieu of his longtime wish to go on crusade. When Bruce died, his heart was cut from his body and placed in a small silver-and-enamel casket that Sir James carried around his neck. Bruce's wish was that his heart be left at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Seal of William, Lord of Douglas, William
 IV of Scotland, son of Sir James the Good
Douglas. Note heart, bar and three stars.
  • 1330 – Douglas set sail from Berwick with seven other knights and 26 squires and gentlemen. They  joined the army of Alfonso XI of Castile,  campaigning against Muslims of the kingdom of Granada led by Berber General Uthman. The Granadans were based at the "Castle of Stars" in Teba. To tempt Alfonso out to battle, Uthman sent out a small body of cavalry on a diversionary attack. Alfonso learned of Uthman's scheme and kept most of his army in camp, ready to defend against Uthman's main force. Othman led his army in a confused retreat back to their camp. Douglas and some knights pursued them aggressively that they were cut off from the rest of Alonso's army. Douglas turned to ride back to close the gap, only to find the tables turned and his troops surrounded by Moors. Douglas engaged the Moors even though his group was outnumbered 20 to one. As told by Sir Walter Scott, Douglas took from his neck the silver casket which contained the heart of Bruce and threw it before him among the enemy. Douglas and all the men with him were killed.
Douglas's bones were taken back to Scotland and deposited at St Bride’s Kirk, Douglas – about 20 miles southeast of Glasgow and 30 miles southwest of Edinburgh. The heart of Bruce was solemnly interred under the high altar of Melrose Abbey.

The Morays (Murrays) of Bothwell (1296)

Moray Clan Crest - Azurethree
 faceted stars argent within a double
 tressure flory-counter-flory, or.
The Murray-Moray Clan (from the Gaelic Muireadhaigh – the two English spellings are both pronounced “Murray”) family can be traced back to Freskin, who accompanied King David I (St. David) to suppress an insurrection in the North in 1130.

Freskin was rewarded with lands in Moray and he later adopted the name. From him descended the Morays, Lords of Bothwell and the families of Sutherland, Earls of Sutherland and Lords Duffus.

(1) Freskin died before 1171, leaving three sons, one of whom was...

(2) William, who obtained, about 1168, a charter (grant from the of the lands of Strabrok and Duffus, and died about 1203, leaving at least three sons, one of whom was...

The MacMurray variation on
the Murray shield. Note the
pierced mullets instead of
(3) William de Moravia was Lord of Petyn, Brachlie, and Boharm. He died before 5th October 1226, leaving two sons, one of whom was...

(4) Sir Walter de Moravia, Lord of Petyn, who died 1244, and was succeeded by his son...

(5) Sir William de Moravia, who died before March 1253. He married a daughter of Malcolm, Earl of Fife, and had a son...

(6) Sir Walter de Moravia. He died in 1284. Besides the property in Moray, he owned Bothwell in Clydesdale, and Smailholm and Crailing in Roxburgh. The lands of Bothwell had belonged to the Olifards, and it was either the daughter or sister of Sir David Clifford who brought this property to the Morays. Sir Walter had at least two sons: Sir William (No. 7) and Sir Andrew (No. 8).

(7) Sir William de Moravia, Lord of Bothwell, died before November 1300. He swore fealty to King Edward I in 1296. He was succeeded by his brother...

(8) Sir Andrew de Moravia, who died in the period November 6-10, 1297. He was taken prisoner at Dunbar in 1296 and sent to the Tower of London, where he died. He was married, first, to a daughter of Sir John Comyn of Badenoch, and had a son, Sir Andrew (No. 9). He married, second, in 1286, Euphemia, widow of William Comyn of Kilbride. She died in 1288, and according to the Scots Peerage she may be ancestress of the Murrays of Cockpool.

(9) Sir Andrew Moray. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Stirling Bridge, September 1297, fighting for Sir William Wallace ["Braveheart"]. He had a posthumous son...

(10) Sir Andrew Moray, died 1338. He was a strong supporter of King Robert Bruce. By his first wife, he had two sons: (a) Sir John (No. 11), (b) Sir Thomas (No. 12). He married, second, Christian Bruce, sister of King Robert.

(11) Sir John Moray, Lord of Bothwell, died before 5th September 1351. He married, 1348, Margaret Graham, heiress of the Earldom of Menteith, and was succeeded by his brother, #12...

(12) Sir Thomas Moray, Lord of Bothwell, died 1361. He married Johanna, daughter and heiress of Sir Maurice Moray of Drumsargard, Earl of Strathearn (No. 250a). His widow afterwards married Archibald "the Grim," third Earl of Douglas, who then acquired the Lordship of Bothwell.

Would the U.S. Founding Fathers be aware of and respect these coats of arms? Yes, the number of people of Scottish ancestry in the colonies was very large. At least one-third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are said to have been of Scottish origin.

The Faceted Star of the Earls of Oxford

Coat of Arms of the Earl of
Oxford. Quartered with red
(gules) and gold (or) and a
faceted star in the first quarter. 
The de Vere family, whose first-born males became the Earls of Oxford until the title died out, have a faceted star in their coat of arms. Orthodox English heraldists insist that a star-like object in is a mullet (the rotating part of a spur), even a faceted star that looks nothing like a spur, because they say everything in a non-Scottish coat of arms must have to do with being a knight.

Today blazoned as a mullet of five points argent (but in early times could have had six points), the star was probably added as a mark of cadency, perhaps when someone more senior in the family crossed from the Cotentin, or from Greater Flanders, to join the English court.

But the main legend associated with the de Vere star has nothing to do with a spur of a knight.

The village of Ver is near Coutances,
Manche, Lower Normandy.
The family name almost surely came from Ver, an inland village on the western end of Normandy, in the Department of the Manche. The nobility of Normandy is one of the two main sources of the post-1066 influx into England and Scotland, the other being Boulogne, then part of Flanders. DNA research doesn't help distinguish between the two influxes, because both Norman and Flemish nobility can be traced back to Vikings from Denmark.

The colors in the de Vere coat of arms suggest its origin in Boulogne, whose colors are also red and gold (gules and or). Aubrey (or Alberic) de Vere was first of the family to settle in England, enjoying a high place at the court of King William. The Domesday Book, completed in 1086, shows de Vere owned large properties in southern England.

His son, Aubrey de Vere II, supported Empress Matilda (aka Maud or Maude) in her war with King Stephen, who was captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. Aubrey paid homage to the Empress, and was rewarded by her with an earldom. He was to be Earl of Cambridgeshire, unless that county were held by the King of Scots, in which case he was to pick another title. Since it was held by the Kind go Scots, Aubrey took the title of Earl of Oxford, confirmed by Matilda's son, Henry II.

The Divine and the Devil in the de Vere Star 

Most explanations of the the stars in the Douglas and Moray/Murray coats of arms revolve around the  idea that Freskin, or Theobald the Fleming, was descended from a third son in the House of Boulogne.

But the legend associated with the faceted star in the de Vere coat of arms is that Aubrey I, on the first Crusade, Aubrey I, on the first Crusade, was in battle on a dark night.  God supposedly took the side of the Christians. Wanting to ensure their safety, God is said to have intervened by inserting a bright white star on the standard of Aubrey de Vere. Those who are familiar with managerial hierarchies and doubt God was involved personally in that level of detail are more likely to believe the version of the story that has an angel of the Lord leaning down and throwing the star onto de Vere's standard.

The de Vere family adopted the star as a badge. It appeared on their standards and was worn by their armies. So it was that the army of the Earl of Oxford at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 was wearing this badge as it join he Earl's ally, Warwick the Kingmaker.

The 16-pointed white rose-in-
sun of Edward IV. Oxford's
 star looked too much like it
 in the mist.
The badge was mistaken in the morning mists for the white rose-in-the-sun badge of their Yorkist enemy, Edward IV.  Warwick charged and was killed. The Earl of Oxford fled. The battle was lost before it even began.

Edward IV, it is believed, then decided it was safe to murder Henry VI, imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The House of Lancaster, loyally supported by the de Veres, was ended. Edward IV was re-crowned King of England.

Cant. Gio, in a comment on another post, says that a de Vere was with Sir James the Good Douglas at Teba. It would be quite possible that the star in the de Vere shield was a reference to the star on the Douglas shield.

Principal Authorities for Douglas and Moray: George Harvey Johnson, The Heraldry of the DouglasesScots Peerage, and Heraldry of Murray, National Library of Scotland, B000279705 (125 copies printed). Principal Source for de Vere: Baronage.

Posts on the Arms of Oxford Colleges and PPHs: Original Article in Oxford Today . Heraldry as Branding . Heraldry as Fun .  Coat of Arms vs. Crest . Sinister Questions . Visit to the College of Arms . Windsor Herald Talks to New Yorkers . Shaming of Harvard Law Shield :: Rapid Expansion of Oxford's Colleges and Halls . Oxford Stars . Links to Heraldry, Oxford, GW . Harris Manchester College . Linacre College . St Catherine's . St Cross College . St Edmund Hall . Trinity College :: Regent's Park College . St Benet's Hall . 


  1. Good afternoon, thank you. My father had thought that he was a descendant of a supporter of William Wallace, however we thought it was through the `Cragg`side. Now that I know it is through the Scot side of the family I will be able verify the legend. Though I must say they had thought it was through a maid of King Richard the Lion Heart, as I read through this history I may find the evidence of this link as well. It appears the legend, the family`s and locations are all from the same time period.

  2. I'm glad all this has been useful. What interests me is how far the Scottish border is from London, and how much it shifted during the period of Edwards I-III. The warriors on both sides of the border seem to pay more attention to each other than the folk down-island.